ANNAPOLIS -- A turf protection strategy that apparently backfired has forced the Maryland Lottery to withdraw $2 million in advertising planned for Washington radio and television stations.
The move could hurt sales in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which account for about a third of the lottery's $800 million in annual sales, said lottery spokesman Carroll H. Hynson Jr.
But one of Maryland's chief competitors, the District of Columbia lottery, is not jumping for joy at the news. In fact, a D.C. lottery official said he is "puzzled and amazed" by Maryland's actions, which he said could hurt both jurisdictions.
"The action initiated by the Maryland state lottery is unprecedented in the industry. It throws the marketing for the D.C., Maryland and Virginia lotteries into a quandary," said Anthony S. Cooper, director of the D.C. lottery. "I've got four lawyers working on it now."
The problem started in April when a few D.C. lottery ads were broadcast on Baltimore-area radio stations. To stop the incursion, the Maryland Lottery Agency decided to enforce a law that prohibits other states from advertising their government-run lotteries in Maryland.
Mr. Hynson said the law dates back to the late 1800s, well before the advent of radio and television stations that can blanket several states with their signals.
The Maryland Lottery Agency, directed by William F. Rochford, sent letters to several Baltimore-area radio stations, telling them to stop airing D.C. lottery ads because they violated the law.
Washington lottery officials had spent $17,000 on ads in Baltimore to promote a new lottery game called Powerball, Mr. Cooper said. The ads ran with traffic reports and represented the D.C. lottery's first foray onto Baltimore's airwaves, he said.
Mr. Cooper said he discussed the problem with Mr. Rochford and told him that Washington had a similar law.
"We haven't sought to enforce [our law] because there are some questions about its constitutionality and legality," Mr. Cooper said.
Nonetheless, the Maryland Lottery decided it had to obey the D.C. statute, against the wishes of Mr. Cooper.
"I begged him not to pull the ads," said Mr. Cooper, who did not want the Washington economy to lose the advertising dollars.
Mr. Rochford was unavailable for comment yesterday, and Mr. Hynson said he could not comment on the conversation between the two lottery chiefs.
Mr. Hynson did say, however, that his agency could continue to advertise the lottery on Maryland-based radio stations that serve the Washington area. He said he did not know how long it would take to cancel the ads in Washington because some of them were bought in advance.
Marlene Trestman, an assistant Maryland attorney general, confirmed that the D.C. lottery did not ask Maryland to stop advertising in Washington. However, the D.C. law is valid, she said, and her office recommended that the Maryland Lottery Agency abide by it.
In a related matter, the lottery agency is currently defending the Maryland advertising law in a suit filed by the Maryland/District of Columbia/Delaware Broadcasters Association in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The lawsuit is pending.
The broadcasters' association is challenging the law because Maryland broadcasters want the right to accept ads from the D.C. lottery.
The broadcasters contend the law violates First Amendment protections to free speech, as well as equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.